2009 Indiana Preview - Defense
Indiana DT Jammie Kirlew
Indiana DT Jammie Kirlew
Posted May 25, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Indiana Hoosier Defense

Indiana Hoosiers

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Indiana Preview | 2009 Indiana Offense
- 2009 Indiana Defense | 2009 Indiana Depth Chart
- 2008 IU Preview | 2007 IU Preview | 2006 IU Preview 

What you need to know
: It’s time for the defense to finally do something right after finishing 107th in the nation in total defense, 105th in pass defense and 91st in run D. With experience, depth, size and athleticism, it all should be there for there to be some semblance of production in some way, shape, or form. Led by Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton on the ends the pass rush will be among the best in the country. The linebacking corps is solid around Matt Mayberry in the middle, but Will Patterson has to come back healthy from a wrist injury. The secondary has depth and potential, but the corners are so suspect that leading receiver Ray Fisher is moving over to play one spot and both starting safeties, Nick Polk and Austin Thomas, are coming off of ACL injuries.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Matt Mayberry, 89
Sacks: Jammie Kirlew, 10.5
Interceptions: Austin Thomas, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jammie Kirlew
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Ray Fisher
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Tyler Replogle
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Greg Middleton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kirlew, 2) Middleton, 3) LB Matt Mayberry
Strength of the defense: Defensive end, experience
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
Everyone was focusing on Greg Middleton after his breakout 2007 season, and it was senior Jammie Kirlew who turned into the star. A tremendous athlete with a great burst off the ball, the 6-3, 263 pounder finished second on the team with 74 tackles with 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Voted the team’s most valuable player, he was consistently disruptive with sacks in eight games and an 11-tackle day against Penn State. Now he’ll be the one getting all the attention, but he’s good enough to keep improving and come up with another first-team All-Big Ten season.

Senior Greg Middleton led the nation in sacks in 2007 with 16 to go along with 17 tackles for loss and 50 stops. With his pass rushing ability and his 6-3, 285-pound size he was one of the hottest players coming into the 2008 season, but he struggled as a marked man and wasn’t able to generate the same production  making just four sacks and 18 stops. He’ll move around a little bit and will see some time at tackle, but it’s salary drive time. An ideal 3-4 end at the next level, he needs a 2007-like season to boost his stock back up. Now that he has pushed harder this offseason to become a star again, he should be back to form.

Eventually, Deonte Mack will be back in the mix at tackle. The 6-3, 286-pound junior made 21 tackles with two sacks on his way to a decent season, but he underwent hip surgery this off-season and missed all of spring ball. He’s tough and should fight his way back on the field; he missed spring ball last year with a shoulder injury. A bulked up end, he needs to be stronger against the run now that he’s in his third year up front.

The spotlight will be on redshirt freshman Nicholas Sliger, a 6-3, 293-pound redshirt freshman who dominated on the scout team last season. Mr. Football in Indiana in 2007, Sliger is a pure tackle who should grow into a mauler on the inside. While he’s quick enough to get into the backfield, he’ll be at his best, with a little bit of experience, against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: With help needed right away on at defensive tackle, Jarrod Smith will move over from the offensive side to add more size in the middle. At 6-4 and 301 pounds, the junior has the bulk and he has playing experience seeing time at both guard and center. However, he hasn’t played on the defensive line since high school.

6-1, 263-pound Terrance Thomas is another big end who’ll be a steady part of the rotation. The junior worked mostly at tackle making six tackles, and now he’ll move to the outside to play behind Middleton. He’ll also be a major factor on special teams.

Watch Out For ... the offensive linemen. Jarrod Smith should be a good tackle with a little bit of time, he’s too big to not add more of a physical element inside, while Milton Owens will also see work after being a key backup on the other side of the ball.
Strength: Pass rush. Middleton and Kirlew should be the most dangerous pass rushing tandem in the Big Ten. Expect Middleton to regain his 2007 form and Kirlew to be strong, even if he’s likely to take a minor step back in overall production.
Stopping the run. This has been a major problem for the last few years, and considering there’s so much size and quickness up front, it’s inexcusable. Wisconsin ran over the Hoosiers like they weren’t even there, Michigan State has owned the IU front four for the last few years, and Ball State and Illinois had few problems. The tackles have to be far better.
Outlook: There will be plenty of sacks and lots of tackles for loss, but this group should have problems with spread offenses and, despite the good size all across the four positions, will get pushed around by any physical line. Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew form a special pass rushing combination that could come up with 25 sacks if everything is working right, but more is needed from the tackles. The situation could be a nightmare if Deonte Mack isn’t 100% back from a hip problem.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
The linebacking corps has its star back with senior Matt Mayberry returning to his spot in the middle. After two decent years, he became the team’s leading tackler with 89 stops to go along with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He hit the weight room hard and went from a safety-sized defender to 244 pounds on his 6-2 frame. Tremendously athletic, he’ll be used in a variety of ways and should be a key pass rusher once again.  

Returning to his spot on the weakside, eventually, will be 6-1, 236-pound senior Will Patterson, a tough-tackling leader who made 55 tackles last year before suffering a knee injury. He was out this offseason with a wrist problem, but he’ll be back in time to continue his solid career as one of the team’s most disruptive players. While he’s average against the run, he’s good in pass coverage and is solid at getting into the backfield with 8.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He made 104 stops in 2007 and has the potential to be an all-star if he can stay healthy.

Working on the strongside will be Tyler Replogle, a 6-2, 231-pound junior who’s tough and very active inside or out. Versatile enough to play and of the three positions, he’s just getting back to full form after tearing his ACL two years ago. He managed to get back in the mix last year and made 38 tackles, but he has the talent to do far more now that he’s fully healthy and as the starter.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Patterson is back and ready to go, senior Justin Carrington will be counted on to be a key player on the weakside. The former running back moved over a few years ago and has been a natural as one of the team’s key backups. He made 28 tackles last year and proved to be one of the team’s better open-field tacklers. While he’s not the player Patterson is, at 6-0 and 223 pounds he has decent size.

Overdue to break out is Darius Johnson, one of the stars of the 2008 offseason. The 6-0, 234-pound sophomore has been a weight room superstar and has a great combination of quickness, hitting ability, and range. He’ll work behind Mayberry in the middle after making 13 tackles, but the job will be his next year.

Former running back Trea Burgess was a top special teamer last year even though he only finished with three tackles. At 6-1 and 226 pounds he’s one of the lighter linebackers in the mix, but he can move on the strongside.

Watch Out For ... this to be the team’s strength. The starting threesome should be excellent while the depth is solid and athletic. There will be a good rotation and plenty of options for the coaching staff to play around with.
Strength: Speed and quickness. Considering the size, this group can get around the field and they can all get to the ball. Mayberry and Patterson are an excellent twosome who should combine for over 150 tackles, while Replogle has star potential.s
Holding up against the run. The defensive front didn’t exactly provide a ton of help against the power running team, but the linebackers weren’t stars, either. There were too many problems against the power teams and too many tackles down the field. This group tries hard, but it needs to be more productive.
Outlook: This is a veteran corps that started out with several undersized, athletic prospects who grew into veterans who hit the weight room hard over the last few years. Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson are a tremendous twosome who’ll lead the defense, but they, along with all the rest of the veterans in the mix, have to do far more against the run. The production simply hasn’t been there over the last few years, but the talent is in place to change that.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Looking to provide instant help for a major problem area is Ray Fisher, the team’s leading receiver last year who came up with 42 catches for 373 yards and five touchdowns. He hit the weights hard and got up to 185 pounds on his 5-9 frame, but he’ll still be pushed by bigger receivers and he’ll have to prove his quickness and speed can translate to the position. He played corner in high school, but he’ll be tested early on until he can prove he can handle the work.

Sophomore Chris Adkins is back at the other corner position after surprisingly starting every game last season. At 6-1 and 186 pounds, he has decent size and he proved to be an excellent, reliable tackler making 554 tackles. However, he didn’t pick off and passes and he only broke up four as he tried to learn on the fly. He’s a smart, tough player with decent speed, but he’s likely out of position. He’d flourish as a free safety.

Back at his free safety spot is 6-0, 225-pound senior Nick Polk after finishing sixth on the team with 52 tackles with an interception and two broken up passes. The former receiver has often played like a wideout trying to be a defensive back over the last few years, but he hasn’t been too bad outside of problems staying healthy. He had a hamstring issue last offseason and now he’s trying to return from a torn ACL that knocked him out of the final five games of last year. When he’s right, he has good speed and is a nice hitter, but he might need a while to be back to 100%.

Also trying to return from an ACL injury is strong safety Austin Thomas, a 6-2, 221-pound senior who made 41 tackles and two interceptions in just six games before getting knocked out for the year. He also had problems with an ankle injury. A great tackler, he led the team in stops with 112 two years ago and was just starting to get better against the pass before he got hurt. A tone-setting hitter, the team needs him back to be an intimidating force in the defensive backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Nick Polk is back at free safety, 6-1, 223-pound junior Jerimy Finch will step in and take over. At the very least he’ll be a key part of the rotation after serving as a top special teamer who blocked two kicks and finished with six tackles in just five games of work. He has good size and excellent quickness, and he’s finally healthy after suffering a broken leg as a freshman.

Working behind Austin Thomas at strong safety, and holding down the starting job until Thomas is healthy, will be Jarrell Drane, a 6-2, 197-pound sophomore who saw a little bit of time in three games and made two tackles. Mostly a special teamer so far, he’s a good tackler who should be a major factor over the next three years.

Junior Richard Council was solid last year getting seven starts throughout the midseason and finishing the year with a team-leading nine broken up passes. He also showed he could hit with 45 tackles, but he got knocked out for the year with an ankle injury. At 6-1 and 201 pounds he has excellent size to combine with the smallish Ray Fisher at one corner spot.

Sophomore Donnell Jones is a very raw prospect with big-time upside. The 5-10, 210-pounder can hit, is very fast, and has a little bit of experience making 20 tackles with an interception and four broken up passes. He’s going to combine with Chris Adkins for one spot and will also see time as a nickel back.

Watch Out For ... Fisher. The secondary was a nightmare last season and needs new blood at corner. The receiving corps has so much potential that the team’s leading receiver, Fisher, is able to move over to try to add something more to the corner spot.
Strength: Depth. There are good options at all four spots. While there will be a drop-off if the starting safeties, Nick Polk and Austin Thomas aren’t 100%, there are plenty of interesting athletes.
Pass coverage. Despite having one of the nation's best pass rushes to help the cause over the last few years, the secondary has still been awful. There weren’t many high octane passing games in the Big Ten, but that didn’t matter as the Hoosiers were lit up for 261 yards per game and 20 touchdowns.
Outlook: There’s plenty of quickness, decent size, and several good options to tinker with, but there isn’t much in the way of proven production. The pass defense was miserable last season and might not be appreciably better with last year’s leading receiver, Ray Fisher, playing a key role at one corner and starting safeties Nick Polk and Austin Thomas iffy at best after coming off torn ACLs. On the plus side, the pass rush will be there to help. On the down side, there isn’t much in the way of coverage ability.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Gone is Austin Starr after a bit of a disappointing season hitting 10-of-17 field goals. In comes Nick Ford, a junior who hit one extra point last year. He doesn’t have a huge leg, but he’ll be given every shot to be the main man from 40 yards and in. However, he’ll be pushed by Mitch Ewald, a true freshman who has been ranked as one of the nation’s top kickers. He has a monster leg with range well beyond 50 yards.

Sophomore Chris Hagerup had a great season averaging 42.4 yards per kick and put 14 inside the 20, but he has to return healthy after undergoing offseason ACL surgery. He’ll be ready to go by the start of the season and should be one of the Big Ten’s better kickers.

Receiver-turned-corner Ray Fisher was the team’s best punt returner last year averaging a decent 9.6-yard per try. RB Demetrius McCray will replace Marcus Thigpen as the team’s top kick returner after averaging 22.8 yards per attempt on his 17 tries.

Watch Out For ... Ewald. He won’t have the job handed to him when he hits campus, but he’s arguably the program’s best recruit this year and could be a star over the next four years.
Strength: The return game. Fisher was a good punt returner and McCray should be a weapon as a kickoff returner. As long as Hagerup is healthy again, the punting game will be a strength.
Kickoff coverage. This was a big, big problem last year allowing 24.3 yards per attempt with a touchdown. The IU defense needs all the positive field position it can get.
Outlook: The special teams won’t be outstanding, but they’ll be solid. The kicking game will turn out to be fine with super-recruit Mitch Ewald good enough to step in if Nick Ford doesn’t get the job done, while Chris Hagerup will be one of the Big Ten’s best punters if he’s over his ACL injury. The coverage teams could be better, but the return game will be solid.
Rating: 7